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The 16th Stratford Literary Festival today announces a stellar line-up – with three of the UK’s leading actresses, TV stars, best-selling authors, leading journalists and opinion formers and a right Royal Coronation celebration.


The Festival which runs from 2nd to 7th May at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Stratford will feature headline names including stars of stage and screen Dame Judi Dench and Dame Penelope Wilton. Pointless presenter Alexander Armstrong and Dame Harriet Walter will lead a celebration of the genius of PG Wodehouse, and actor Anton Lesser will read from the Booker-winning novel Wolf Hall accompanied by the TV series music composer Debbie Wiseman in a tribute to the late Hilary Mantel.


The Festival kicks off early with a special event with its Patron Maggie O’Farrell on 13th April at Holy Trinity Church. She’ll be talking about the staging of Hamnet which opens at the Swan Theatre in April in a live and live streamed event.


The main Festival then plunges into a packed programme that covers a range of issues including the environment in events with the award-winning journalist George Monbiot and bushcraft expert Ray Mears. Political shenanigans are brought into focus by the sharp pen of Guardian columnist Marina Hyde, and PM watcher Sir Anthony Seldon re-assess Boris Johnson’s tenure at No.10. DJ and best-selling author Stuart Maconie retraces Priestley’s steps to discover what it means to be English in 2023.


Leading Stand-up to the Classics comedian and radio broadcaster Natalie Haynes defends the much maligned Medusa, and best-selling authors Jennifer Saint and Janina Ramirez reassess the lives of forgotten women who have impacted the world throughout history.


TV’s Repair Shop’s leather expert Suzie Fletcher shares her moving life story and extreme runner Nick Butter describes the challenges of running the entire coastline of Britain. Times columnist India Knight brings us her sparkling debut novel, and Pub Landlord-turned-writer, comedian Al Murray, reveals his excellent history of WW2. Veteran broadcaster Edward Stourton shares a career at the forefront of BBC news, and we welcome back to Stratford the poet Pam Ayres who had to cancel her event in November.


The programme also features some of the country’s leading thinkers and academics including Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Alice Sherwood, Peter Frankopan, Jonathan Kennedy, Kimberley Wilson, Naoise Mac Sweeney and Richard Fisher who tackle topics as varied as UK debt, the impact of Western Culture, long-view thinking, AI and the impact of our diet on our mental health.


To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio this year, there will be events with leading experts Emma Smith and Chris Laoutaris, and the outgoing RSC Artistic Director Greg Doran shares the highlights of a career that has had him titled ‘one of the great Shakespearians of his generation’.


In a first for the Festival, there will be an exciting Fringe Festival programme that takes place in a Big Top marquee on the grassed area in front of the Crowne Plaza hotel. The line-up will include a brilliant Comedy Night with Mark Maier, Shazia Mirza, Otis Cannelloni and Mike Gunn; the political spoken word performer Luke Wright, the hilarious Marcel, Britain’s favourite French flâneur, and a performance of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.


The Festival’s hugely successful Writer’s Bootcamp returns with a week of targeted workshops with novelist and creative writing tutor Meg Sanders, which culminate in the chance to pitch your novel to a leading literary agent. The Festival also platforms two of this year’s most exciting emerging authors, Tom Crewe and Sarah Hardy, with their debut novels.


The Festival will be celebrating the Coronation on 6th May with a free screening and a host of Coronation related events for children with crown making and storytelling. Other events for families include a show with author Kristina Stephenson and her enchanting character Sir Charlie Stinkysocks, Folksy Theatre’s magical Mr Magnolia show, storytelling with the internationally renowned storyteller Peter Chand, and some right Royal Stick and Fetch fun with author and illustrator team Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick.


The Festival is also staging subsidised events for schools with Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Janina Ramirez and illustrator Alex Paterson during the Festival week.


‘This year’s Festival has one of our most exciting line-ups,’ says Festival Director Annie Ashworth. ‘We’ve managed to pack in a mass of events and there will be something to please everyone whatever your interests. We are embracing the Coronation and look forward to the town being busy and people being on holiday!’


‘In what has been a tough couple of years for everyone,’ she continues, ‘We are enormously grateful to our sponsors and supporters that they have continued to value the Festival as a leading UK book festival and a beacon in the local cultural calendar.’


Headline sponsors in 2023 continue to be Baillie Gifford, and lead sponsors are Inspired Villages and David Hunt Lighting.


Tickets start at £12 and £6 for children’s events, and go on general sale on 17th February from





Photo: Dame Judi Dench credit Robert Wilson